Monthly Archives: May 2008

Z takes control. Ish.

Yes, well, I’ve sort of taken control. The coffee morning is over and it went well – I explained about the missing half of the present and there’s another fortnight and a bit before the next deadline, so we’ll see how that goes. And I took along my computer (yes, it was vastly admired – a Mac knows how to show itself off [it has a brighter display than a PC, which is highly impressive]) and there was a small crowd, which changed so that everyone saw it, of people to see my pictures of Madrid, Segovia and the rest – I hadn’t actually planned on that or I’d have taken out the duff ones – and then they noticed the L’toft, so i showed them those (from the last sale) as well, which was Good Advertising. So I came through that all right.

I went home via Waitrose and bought, not only splendid biscuits for Tuesday, but also a couple of fine tarts, which – what the hell? – can form the basis for Tuesday’s puddings with strawberries and, if I get around to it, meringues and (less likely) crème brulée. I’ve an abundance of slightly overgrown asparagus, so it’ll probably be soup for a first course, although I’d like to do a risotto, but I’ve never tried the sort where you part cook it and then leave it for a while before finishing and I wouldn’t want to balls it up. I haven’t decided on the main course yet; it rather depends on Monday’s weather forecast. Actually, the fishmonger calls on a Monday morning – I wonder if he’ll have a salmon? That could work. Easy to cook in the bottom oven and can do for indoors or out. Anyway, it’ll be fine (do you know, if your right hand is slightly misplaced when you touchtype, fine turns into fube?). Having decided to cheat on puds, I had to buy lemons from Al for Proper Lemonade, because – well, you know, just because (several people will be driving, so will be circumspect with the wine).

The clarinet practise is doing well, except that the inside of my bottom lip is awfully sore. The accepted treatment is padding it with cigarette paper, but it still hurts after a few minutes; never mind. I’ve tomorrow to get through (when I’m discussing what to play with the bride and groom) and then I can pace myself for Saturday. I’ve admitted my complete unpreparedness to several people (not including my family … oh, hi, Wink and Weeza) and they assured me I’ll get through. Well, they had to, didn’t they? They are good friends and i trust them to be right.

Still having a difficulty eating. A proper breakfast – yes, dry toast and plain yoghurt is my normal breakfast, but lunch was 6 corncakes – like ricecakes but made, believe it or not, out of maize. Like squashed crisp salty popcorn. 22 calories each. Dinner I got put off, abruptly (look, I’m not criticising the Sage, but it was his fault), and so have not eaten much of, but one makes up with plenty of Chianti. Yes.

Z is bluffing and has been called

Yes, all those plates are all wobbling and one of them has dropped, but that’s not actually my fault because it was mail order and was supposed to arrive two days ago. Tomorrow morning is the deadline and I don’t think it’ll arrive before I have to leave. Fortunately, it wasn’t the only present and I’ll get flowers as well – and oh blimey, I wonder where I put the card we all signed? I may know – that’ll be the next thing to check.

The other plate that’s teetering isn’t my fault either. You see, we’re having a get-together, those of us who went to Madrid last month, and one keen photographer has a film of the whole thing to show us. I only discovered yesterday that he has no apparatus on which to show it. Oh, well done; if he’d said so last week I could have done something about it. I can take along a lap-top, but I certainly don’t have a digital projector. The chap who did it last year brought all his own stuff and I assumed he would too. I could take along my computer, I suppose (I presume he has it on disk) as at least that has a decent-sized screen.

Everything else in the next week that’s wobbling is my own fault. I airily agreed when my friend asked me to play the music at her wedding – this was months back – and it was decided that I’d play hymns on the organ and the rest of the music on the clarinet. She called in about a month ago, and it was only then that I discovered there are 100 guests. As it’s a second wedding for them both and she’s a modest sort of lass, I’d sort of thought there wouldn’t be many in the congregation. Furthermore, she wanted to leave the choice of music to me, though we agreed something stately but not traditionally bride-like for the start, some Mozart or similar for the signing of the register and something jazzy as they left. Unfortunately, I’ve been too busy to make as good preparations as I’d have liked and it’s only been in the last few days that it’s been coming together.

She’s coming round on Sunday to approve the choices. I’ve chosen a trumpet voluntary for her entrance, which I can play on the clarinet or organ and I’ll have to discuss the Mozart with her. You see, classical music was rarely written for solo clarinet and so there are always bits where you’re accompanying the rest of the instruments rather than taking the main part; though I have music scored for clarinet and piano, which at least cuts out the orchestra or quintet or whatever. I might play a piano sonata instead, (the Andante from the 15th Sonata) which sounds all right with just the treble part being played. For their exit, I’ve gone with a rumba and a samba, and have a few jazz and blues numbers to finish. But I’ve not practised as much as I should have – it’s not the notes, it’s the lip muscles and stamina that need building up.

And then on Tuesday I’ve got a committee meeting here, and as it’s the last before September, I’ve said I’ll do lunch; only trouble is I’m chairing the meeting and so can’t keep nipping out to the kitchen to do things. There will be 12 of us – yes, you might say, do cold, with salads; and I might, but I’ve still got to prepare the food. And do a pudding. I think they’ll rather anticipate three courses, actually. It’s pushing it to get 12 round the dining table, so I’d hoped to have lunch in the garden, but the forecast is rain – though who knows, those who decide these things might change their minds and decide there will be summer after all.

I’ve also got a couple of reports for the newsletter and the rota for the church to do before Sunday. And I’m helping at the school on Monday afternoon and then have the children as Dilly is working, and the rest of the week is normal stuff on the whole – there will be time to practise the music which is the only thing that really matters. I can’t dampen a wedding, it’s got to be good.

I’ve still got loads to plant out in the kitchen garden. As there was a frost a couple of weeks ago – it caught 4 courgette plants and a few french beans, I held back a bit but now I’ve got a load of stuff that must go in very soon. Preferably before Tuesday. One person will check out the garden – I have pinched out all the side shoots on the tomatoes in preparation – so it has to be a whole lot readier than it is. Last year, another one opened the door to my study, just to see if it’s as undisciplined as I say it is. It was. He chuckled. I called him a bastard. I never swear at people usually (I swear, but not at people) but I thought it was rude.

None of it is out of the way really, but unfortunately I seem to have sort of stopped eating and sleeping a bit, which is making me tenser than usual.

Oh damn. Coffee and the best biscuits on Tuesday as well. I’ll have to come home via Waitrose tomorrow.

Update, dinner having been eaten
Okay, it was a Chinese whisper thing, the person with the pictures had never expected to run a slideshow, so it isn’t his fault, and the person who thought he was is Perfect and I’m not blaming her because I love her. I’ll take along a laptop *cough*, I’ll have to borrow Dilly’s as Ro is away tonight – Dilly is out for the evening so I’ll ask Al instead, because Dilly is the sort of lovely person who won’t mind, because someone else has got a slideshow but I knew in the first place that she didn’t have equipment.

It’s amazing, how talking to people and getting things straight makes one feel less tense. Also, eating dinner. I only had a slice of dry toast and a few – half a dozen – cashew nuts all day, and it wasn’t enough but I couldn’t eat. Fillet steak, pasta, carrots, broccoli and asparagus, and a forbidden Chelsea bun, and a couple of glasses of wine; maybe a nectarine in a while and I feel slightly as if I shouldn’t have had all that, but I’d be hungry later if not.

Okay, back to work. And then I’ll play the clarinet again. Apparently, I bewildered Al and Dilly last night. They thought one of the children’s musical toys must have been left on and were kept awake as I played until midnight!

Love and all our good wishes to Jonathan

Back last July, I mentioned pals of mine, Jonathan and James, and pointed you in their direction on MySpace – as then, I won’t do it as a link as I don’t want to be tracked back. It’s here –

I mention it because Johnny had a horrible accident on his farm last week and is in hospital. Bailer twine caught both round his foot and around the wheel of the tractor he was driving. No, I’m not sure exactly how it happened either, but he’s not the sort to be careless. He stopped instantly, but had to reverse the tractor to release himself before phoning for help. An air ambulance arrived and he was at the N&N hospital five minutes after they took off again.

They – his parents and the three boys – are a lovely family and he’s a great bloke. The Sage and I haven’t been sleeping too well for the past few nights, thinking about him. His foot was sliced off, virtually, at the instep – every bone was broken and it was only held on by a couple of tendons. They’ve kept his little toe, as long as there isn’t any infection, but the rest couldn’t be saved.

Anyway, why I’m writing this is because I had a bit of a go at aspects of medical practice last week and, though it wasn’t directed against the NHS at all, I thought it only fair to give another side of the matter, which is that this is where the Health Service absolutely shines. Money simply couldn’t buy better care than he will receive.

Update, Friday
We’ve left messages, but not spoken to the family until now, but the Sage spoke to his mother this morning. He’s still in great pain and has to be in isolation because of the risk of infection. His parents and girlfriend are allowed to visit, but no one else. As you can imagine, they are distraught and exhausted – it’s a 50 mile round trip to the hospital every day. There’s still the dairy farm to run and this is the busiest time of the year on the land too – at least all the cows are out of doors and there’s plenty of grass, so they don’t need feeding, but they do need to be milked. Three other men work for them and they are rallying round, and one of them is doing the driving to and from the hospital to spare them as much as possible.

Johnny is longing to be out of isolation and in a ward, for some company, but it won’t be possible for a while. He has various gigs booked for the summer and is still hoping to be able to do some of them – don’t know how likely that is, but the thought is encouraging him anyway.

Thank you all for your messages – when he’s better and I see him again, I’ll tell him.

Or possibly a precursor to regular power cuts

So it wasn’t the weather. It was the power stations. S1zewe11 tripped out and then so did various others. Good old Blair – he didn’t want to risk his early popularity by making decisions about building power stations to replace old ones, so he didn’t decide at all, until he was left without a choice. I’m not sure if anything has actually been built yet, though announcements have been made; and replacements take about a decade to complete and in the meantime our old stations are gradually becoming less able to cope. Still within capacity, but there’s not much spare and a breakdown can have wide-ranging consequences – that is, a knock-on effect.

Wind turbines? – well, we’re not exactly cracking on with building them either, and few people want them anywhere near. Besides, the amount of electricity they generate in practice is always less than is forecast, the weather has to be just right – no wind and they don’t turn, too much and they have to be switched off – and they are quite high-maintenance. Building them offshore seems to be a good idea, but they are more expensive to build and maintain – oh, did I mention that wind-generated electricity is more expensive than that generated by power stations? You wouldn’t think it, would you? And, of course, you can’t store the energy. It’s for immediate use; which takes pressure off the power stations at the time, but they have to be on standby for when they’re needed.

We may say that we are careful about the electricity we use as individuals, but that’s only in comparison with what we used a few years ago. Do you remember the days of round-pin plugs? Your house was probably rewired sometime in the 1960s to replace them. Before that, we could only have a few appliances on at a time – you might be able to listen to the radio while doing the ironing, but if someone turned on a hairdrier upstairs, the fuse would go and you’d have to go and mend it. And most houses weren’t heated upstairs. And rooms had one light dangling from the middle of the ceiling. None of this ambient lighting, with or without low energy bulbs. We all used to cluster together in one room in the evenings, but now we wander off to our various rooms, watching television, playing on games consoles, using computers; often all at the same time. Everyone has fridges and freezers; so we should, but forty years ago most people had a small frozen-food compartment at the top of the fridge, and twenty years before that, few houses even had a refrigerator. Energy efficient appliances still use more than none at all.

Not that I’m knocking the individual. What about shops and offices? All lit up, they are. You’re met by a wall of heat in winter and air-con in summer. Everyone can wear light sleeveless clothes all year round and be comfortable. Supermarkets have whole rows of open fridges and freezers. Computers may be turned off now in offices at night, but every one is going all day.

I suspect we’ll muddle through, most of the time, and have no real idea what a close call it will have been, and the power stations will be renewed in time. And in the meantime, those of us who carefully boil just enough water at a time and don’t leave appliances on standby at night and turn down the heating by a degree or two might make an iota of difference – who knows, that might be the final straw that won’t break the camel’s back? Or we can buy in electricity from the Continent. Mm, that’ll be expensive. They’ve not been quite so squeamish about how to generate power in the past though, so at least they’ll have it to sell.

A pre-emptive power cut

I see it now. There are psychics at the electricity company and they decided to get some of the power cuts over and done with before the bad weather came. I am awfully impressed. Mind you, the storm came in the middle of the night, when a power cut wouldn’t have mattered much, whereas it was quite inconvenient yesterday, but I am too struck by the efficiency to complain.

It was an impressive storm, too. There was no wind and torrential rain fell straight down, the thunder rolled on and on and the lightning hurt my eyes, even when they were shut. I knew I should get up and check that there was no water coming in the house, but the storm had woken me from a deep 3.30 sleep and I hadn’t the willpower. It all seems all right now, although I haven’t investigated outside much.

Rings on his fingers?

“What are we having for dinner?” enquired Ro, coming to have a look. “Ah, fish fingers.” “Goujons” I intoned nasally. “That’s right, thick fish fingers” “Goujons” I insisted. “I haven’t spent half an hour grating bread and egg-and-breadcrumbing fillets of fish for them to be called fish fingers.” “Yeah, but they are,” he said, wandering out of the room.

Ten minutes later, eating dinner, he said “What’s the fish?” “Sea bass”. “Hm, could tell they were a cut above. Very fine texture and flavour.” “Line caught” I insised. “Bit of a waste to make fish fingers, but they’re very good.”

We had a power cut this morning and I rang the electricity board to find out what the fault was. The recorded voice told me that there were numerous faults in the area because of the extreme weather conditions. I stared out at the warm, humid, still air, wondering what exactly constituted an extreme weather condition. Haze just doesn’t seem to do it.

When I was in town, I greeted the mother of an old school friend of Ro’s and asked after the family. “Chris is getting married next year,” she said brightly. Blimey. He’s only a year older than Ro. I told him, later. His reaction was much the same. Mind you, one of his school friends, James, got married a couple of years ago.

Getting over it

I blame the Huge Lorry. This one. It was the interview he gave when he said that he first realised that he was depressed when he was spending a day stock-car racing and realised that, while everyone else was excited, he was bored. He also said that he didn’t look forward to the future. Having a medical background, he recognised the symptoms and promptly checked himself in with a psychotherapist.

‘Nonsense’, I thought. ‘Stock-car racing, how pointless, I’d be bored too and I can’t even bear to contemplate the future, and I’m not depressed…. Oh.”

I worried about it after that. My mind dwelt on it, and I wished I hadn’t read the article. I concluded that I didn’t know whether I would be diagnosed as depressed or not (looking back, I would have been, but that doesn’t mean I’d have been any the better for such a description), but I didn’t see that it mattered, as I was quite happy in my pessimism, I felt safer if I lived in the present, neither looking forward nor back, and I couldn’t be bothered to talk about it with a stranger. I’d talked things through with family and friends and I’d rather just get on with what I had to do and not make a fuss, because the thought of that was stressful in itself.

What I did do was make sure I enjoyed every little thing that I could. Although I didn’t, for quite some years, care at all if I lived or died, I might as well take pleasure in things while I was here. And I made every effort not to become upset by small problems, although I found this very hard for a long time. Anything at all – or sometimes nothing at all – might send me into a feeling of misery and despair that would last for several days. I never told anyone as I could function quite well and the men I lived with were not particularly observant or intuitive and were not likely to notice if I was quiet and distant for a bit.

What put me right was time and being very kind to myself. Now, my feelings were caused by events and general stress. I’m not depressive by nature and I don’t suffer from a depressive illness. I’m not suggesting for one minute that other people, necessarily, would or should cope as I did. I’m talking about me and me only and, as I said yesterday, I had a lot of support and a generally happy family life which gave me every opportunity to recover from the feelings that had taken quite some years to build up.

What I would not have done, by the way, was take on an acting role as a depressed maverick, addicted to painkillers, with an abrasive personality. That would have made me worse. Being frivolous, cheerful and hooting with laughter every time a chap pinched my bum did me much more good in the long run. So, also, was doing quite a lot of voluntary work. It made me focus on others and not feel sorry for myself.

I’ve been fine for nearly two years. I can contemplate old age and no longer want to not reach it. I can be upset, indignant, angry, though I’m none of these things all that often because I am so … oh gosh, hostage to fortune alert … happy. I know of course that all good things could come to an end this very minute, but that makes me all the keener to appreciate them while I have them.

This was meant to be a precursor to another post, but it became too long. I also think I’ve said too much about myself, but there we go.

Z is not depressed – but has friends who are

I have a friend who is strong, capable, a successful business-woman who, in partnership with her husband, runs a stressful business which, by its nature, means that one or other of them is on call at all times. Whatever the occasion, they might have to leave or make a phone call to ensure that someone deals with a situation that has arisen. On top of this, she has an elderly, frail and demanding mother, to whom she is devoted, but who can infuriate her. She also does voluntary work that involves her in heavy responsibilities, both for people and for finance.

What annoyed me last Sunday was when she told me that she just can’t kick the heavy dose of anti-depressants that her doctor put her on last autumn.

I know too many people in this situation. What they should be told is that they are wonderful. Fabulous. They have coped with pressure that many people would find unendurable. They may have had traumas in their past that many of us cannot imagine having to deal with. They reach the end of their tether and this is not only understandable, but inevitable. The mind and body are not supposed to be able to endure the unendurable; sometimes we crack but, because of the nature of the pressures we are under today, this cannot be admitted. So they go to the doctor, say that they can’t sleep, they cry, they lose their temper, they are losing (or gaining) weight, they have a constant headache, irritable bowels, aches and pains, stiff jaws through constant teeth-grinding, and what are they told? They are depressed and the way to deal with this is with anti-depressants.

These can help, in the short term. But they deal with the symptoms, not the problems. And, a few months later, they say that the sleepless nights and all the other problems are still there, the pills don’t really help any more, but they can’t do without them. If they try, in less tense times, to cut down, the anxieties kick in again.

My friend has taken steps to lessen her and her husband’s work-loads, although the effects of this will not really come through for a few more months – and they acted more because of the physical effect on his health than the mental ones on hers – but in the meantime, she thinks she is a failure because she still feels that she can’t cope and now she’s hooked on powerful mind-altering drugs to boot.

I met a friend in town a while ago and we went for coffee. She moved house last year and she told me how much she is enjoying life in her retirement with her daughters nearby and with her grandchildren in close contact. “Still on the happy pills, mind you,” she said. “One day I’ll manage to get off them.” Now, I know when she started taking them. It was years ago, when her last marriage broke up. Since then, she has put her life together and done it very well. But she can’t kick the pills, even though she is happy and has a tranquil life now.

I know any number of people in this situation, and some of those are you, whose blogs I read, and whom I admire hugely. And I don’t blame you if you need help, and I truly sympathise if you suffer from depression or mental illness, and I know that sometimes there is too much to bear and you can’t offload work, anxiety and grief, and that drugs, properly prescribed for good reasons, can help.

1 – I believe that doctors are still too ready to prescribe them. Some people need to be told, in the first instance, that their health should come first and that they need to cut down and slow down. They are not depressed because they are ill, but they are ill and depressed because they are overworked and overstressed. They might need some medicinal help in the short term, but it is more important to treat the cause than the symptoms.
2 – I become very upset when these people, however hard they try to cope with the shit that hits them at every point, bewail their inability to do so. Of course they can’t. They are not meant to. They are not inadequate, they are normal. What sort of fool sleeps calmly through their bankruptcy, or their parent’s terminal illness or impossible demands on their capabilities and emotions? When you are going through an awful time, your body reacts, however hard your brain tries to compensate.
3 – We expect and are expected to ‘get over it’ far too quickly. I think part of the blame lies with the soaps and similar fiction. A few weeks at most after a traumatic death or disaster, the community “comes to terms” with the losses, because the pressures of the storyline dictates that it can’t keep harking back. And so we think we should be the same. We’re not allowed to mourn, we’re given a few weeks and then expected to snap back to normal. Life isn’t like that. I remember a friend of mine, whose husband died at the age of 48, telling me that the second year was worse than the first and that she only started to cautiously regain her equilibrium towards the end of the third year. I know that it took me (in retrospect) three years and three months to recover from the strain of looking after my mother, her death and a very difficult situation in one of my voluntary jobs that I had dealt with very capably at the time. And I had a supportive family, enough money and fundamental security, which many people don’t have.

I’m not saying that depression is not real – it is. And I’m not saying that no one should need medical assistance if it’s caused by ‘events’ rather than a mental ailment. Actually, I’ve lost track of a conclusion and I don’t think I know enough to come to one – just that doctors should look for causes, not just symptoms, and that we should all look at ourselves without judgment and with kindness. And I’m not criticising anyone who can’t cope or who takes pills, just saying that one shouldn’t look to them to make things better if they aren’t.

From 10 to 3

It’s very quiet. Weeza and Phil were due to catch the 4.17 train from Diss, so Wink dropped them off on her way back home. They all need some weekend time for home-based stuff, so decided not to stay for the Bank Holiday Monday. Still, we’ve had fun and it was lovely that we were all able to spend some time together. Glad also that we took full advantage of the sunshine yesterday, as it’s back to normal English bank holiday weather today; chilly and wet.

Taking photos has been a recent enthusiasm for me; we have never bothered much about recording events in words or pictures and so, although there are photographs of the day we got married, they were only in an album of my mother-in-law’s and loose in a drawer belonging to my mother, and I’ve rarely seen them. We did look at them when sorting out my mother’s stuff after she died, and I think they’ve dated rather less than many wedding photos, largely because we made no attempt to be modish in the first place. The Sage has worn exactly the same clothes all his life, so he doesn’t date and is occasionally in fashion, and I looked young in my yellow and white dress, discreetly mini, which I bought for £5 for our wedding, and the long, black and white checked, simple cotton frock I wore for the party three months later – which cost more, probably £15 or so. The Sage has never owned a kipper tie in his life, nor any garment made of velvet, corduroy or denim. Nor suede shoes, nor trainers, nor a Barbour (waxed jacket). He does carry a man-bag, but it is a leather Gladstone bag, as used by a Victorian doctor, He has two in fact, one of them half-sized. I envy him this one, and have often suggested that he give it to me but, since he never says ‘no’ to me but has no intention of relinquishing it, he simply doesn’t hear me.